Shares of Facebook, Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) were sliding today on a continuing string of bad press and amid a broader sell-off in the Nasdaq, which lost 3% on the day. Facebook closed today's session down 5.7%, touching a 52-week-low.
Concern about Facebook's role in society at large, which had been touched off earlier by Russian hacking in the 2016 election and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, among other issues, arose again when an investigative report from The New York Times came out last Thursday, detailing Facebook's hiring of an opposition firm that sought to tie anti-Facebook activists to liberal financier George Soros, while portraying other critics as anti-Semitic, among other issues that show a company in disarray and acting with questionable ethics.
Above all, the report illustrated the company and its leaders as a cadre of slick operators, out of touch with the rising backlash against it and the growing opinion that many see it as a force in society for bad, rather than good.
In the aftermath of that report, CEO Mark Zuckerberg held an all-company videoconference to vigorously defend the company and also deny that it had sought to cover up any wrongdoing, as the report intimated.
Over the weekend, tensions against Facebook continued to brew as a Wall Street Journal article came out saying that Zuckerberg considers his company to be "at war."
It's become clear that at the very least, Facebook will need to significantly ramp up spending on content-monitoring and other defensive needs to protect the company against potential hacking and from being hijacked as a platform for hate speech, like what happened with the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The company has already told investors that much, projecting a narrower operating margin over the coming quarters; however, the greater risk for Facebook is that users and advertisers become so disgusted with the platform that they simply log off. It's unclear at the moment how serious that threat is, since news items like the ones above are often sensationalized by media elites but ignored by the masses. Over the past few quarters, user growth on Facebook in North America and Europe has essentially plateaued.
A measurable user exodus would likely send the stock plunging as it would signal that Facebook's brand has been irrevocably damaged, and those users aren't coming back. On the other hand, if Facebook can survive the current challenges, the stock looks exceptionally cheap at a P/E of just 19. After all, according to conventional financial measurements like revenue growth and profitability, this still looks like a blockbuster business.